The secret to Smith & Wollensky’s iconic steak isn’t how you cook it

The legendary steakhouse uses a spice blend on its Cajun Rib steak that also flavours special-order burgers

By KATE KRADER / Pic BLOOMBERG

OF ALL the dining experiences that people miss — countless, no doubt — one of the most singular, most impossible to recreate at home is a legitimate New York City (NYC) steakhouse.

Although Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, NYC, has just announced that its Luger Burger and steak for two are now available to go, many of the city’s top places aren’t doing delivery: A just-charred strip steak does not show its best face after travelling in a take-out container. Even if it did, there’s no apron-clad server around to slice and serve that seared rib-eye as if it’s just for you.

The spice-rubbed rib steak, ready for marinating (pic: Bloomberg)

Smith & Wollensky has no immediate plans to offer prime beef for takeout. But its famed Cajun Rib steak is featured in a new cookbook that raises money for the hospitality industry.

“Serving New York: For All the People Who Make NYC Dining Unforgettable” (self-published, US$20 or RM85) is the brainchild of writer Kristin Tice Studeman. She came up with the idea for the cookbook because she couldn’t support every single one of the Go Fund Me campaigns on her favourite restaurants’ home pages.

“This felt like the best way to do something impactful,” she says.

Studeman reached out to more than 40 of her favourite chefs and dining spots, from Olmsted to Cote, Restaurant Daniel and Momofuku and created the book.

All proceeds will go to benefit Relief Opportunities for all Restaurants (ROAR) and the Robin Hood Foundation’s New York restaurant worker relief fund. The book, which went on sale on May 18, has raised US$50,000 so far.

“We couldn’t have an NYC cookbook without representing the steak- houses that are an integral part of our restaurant community,” says Stude- man. The book’s recipe for the Cajun Rib steak is based off the bestseller at Smith & Wollensky; it is Warren Buffett’s go-to order.

“The sum of the Cajun Rib steak is somehow greater than its parts,” says owner Alan Stillman, conjuring up memories. “It’s as emblematic a part of a Smith & Wollensky dining experience as our servers in khaki jackets, the brass plaques on the walls, or even the iconic green-and-white building.”

The steak in question is a bone-in rib cut plastered with smoky spices, ground peppers and dried herbs, and then marinated both as a dry-rub and then in an oily bath to push through the flavours. It is then seared in a skillet to crusty excellence.

Quality Branded’s chef-partner Craig Koketsu says the steak also works well — better, in fact — if it’s grilled, for those standing near a grill on Memorial Day Weekend.

For her cookbook, Studeman asked for recipes made with ingredients that quarantined people might have on hand.

Besides a very good rib steak, the other ingredients — spices, oil, vinegar — are generally hanging out in home pantries. This recipe yields additional spice mix, and here’s the secret: It’s an excellent, instant-burger seasoning. In fact, Cajun Burgers are an off-the-menu special at Smith & Wollenskey that you can now recreate at home, at least until its doors reopen.

The following recipe is adapted from the cookbook “Serving New York”. It’s easy to double the steak and marinade ingredients to feed four. There’s enough Cajun spice mix for two steaks. — Bloomberg


Cajun Rib steak

Serves 1-2, plus leftover spice mix

  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper 1 tbsp ground white pepper 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika 11⁄2 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bone-in prime rib steak, or skirt steak (about 11⁄4lb)
  • About 11⁄2 cups vegetable oil, depending on size of steak, plus 2 tbsp for cooking
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

In a small bowl, whisk together cayenne, chilli powder, garlic powder, black and white pepper, onion powder, paprika, cumin, basil, oregano and thyme.

In a small skillet, toast the Cajun spice mix over medium heat, stirring continuously, until fragrant, about three minutes.

Immediately return to the bowl to cool. Rub the steak generously on all sides with two to three tablespoons of the Cajun spice mix. Put the steak on a plate and refrigerate, uncovered, for one hour.

In a shallow bowl, combine the two cups oil with the onion, vinegar, sugar, the one tablespoon salt and one tablespoon of Cajun spice mix. Add the steak to the bowl and turn to coat. If using skirt steak, cut in three pieces, so it fits in the skillet. If the marinade doesn’t cover the meat, stir in a little more oil. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours, and up to 48 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350oF (176oC). Remove the steak from the marinade and season all over with salt. Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large ovenproof skillet over high heat.

Add the steak and cook, flipping once, until charred on each side, six to eight minutes total. If using skirt steak, cook in batches, if necessary.

Transfer the skillet to the oven for six to eight minutes for medium-rare meat. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.